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Viterbi Ph.D. Students Learn about Careers in Academia

December 01, 2009 —

On November 20th, 2009, one hundred and forty Viterbi School Ph.D. students and post doctoral scholars gathered to hear a faculty panel discussion on “Preparing to Apply for an Academic Position.”

“It is important for you to understand your personal mission and decide if a teaching and research career resonates with you,” Dr. Timothy Pinkston told the audience. Pinkston is Professor of Electrical Engineering, Senior Associate Dean of the Viterbi School , and organizer of the event.

Other faculty participants were: Dr. Malancha Gupta, Assistant Professor in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science; Dr. Bhaskar Krishnamachari, Associate Professor and Ming Hsieh Faculty Fellow in Electrical Engineering; Dr. Gerard Medioni, Professor and former Chair of Computer Science; Dr. Jim Moore II, Professor and Chair of the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Dr. Michelle Povinelli, Assistant Professor and WiSE Jr. Gabilan Chair in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering.

“Academia is the best job in the world. You are your own boss. You get to work with interesting people and to travel to interesting places,” Dr. Medioni told the group. He added, “It is increasingly important these days to apply for a post doc position before you apply for a teaching position. As a professor you are going to have to go after research funding, and you will gain valuable experience as a post doc.”

Dr. Krishnamachari emphasized a lifetime of Independence, Learning, Sharing, Creation and Service as the essence of a professorial career. “You are in charge of your own destiny. You will define your research, advise students, review papers, and create your own lab. You have to want these things. They will require your commitment,” he said.

Dr. Gupta told students that, if you hope to be hired into a faculty position, it is never too early to start preparing by attending conferences as a student and by not only working within your own research group but also by collaborating with other research groups whose faculty members may write recommendation letters for you later on. Prospective faculty candidates need many strong letters of recommendation.

Dr. Povinelli emphasized that “schools want to interview prospective faculty candidates because the schools want to become better and stronger in research. Therefore, as a faculty candidate, it is important to come across in the interview as someone who will help them achieve this by hiring you. Try to imagine yourself as a future colleague of the people interviewing you.”

Dr. Moore said that teaching is an important factor in a prospective faculty member’s dossier. Students do well to pursue opportunities to be teaching assistants and assistant lecturers at USC. It is also wise to compete for student awards given by professional and academic societies, because senior faculty members participate in these selection processes, and placing yourself into competition for awards brings you to the collective attention of this group. “Apply widely for institutions that interest you so that you may receive multiple offers to choose from,” he added.

Student attendees were well engaged in the discussion and lingered to ask questions. Several mentioned that they were energized to consider an academic career, along with other options. The next mentoring event, “Preparing to Interview for an Academic Position”, will be held in the spring 2010 semester.

For more information on the panelists and to view their presentations click here